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More on hierarchy – from Tanzanian proverbs

In language class we have been concentrating on Tanzanian proverbs and sayings as there are many in common usage. We have noticed that many of them pertain to the issue of hierarchy. Lots of them are warnings to people who are nearer to the top, but they are not addressed to them, instead expressed in a kind of third person way, in keeping with the indirectness of Tanzanian culture.

Here are some:

Ashibaye hamjui mwenye njaa – the one who is full does not know the one who is hungry. In other words, don’t assume you know what’s going on in the lives of someone lower down than you. It may be much more complicated than you think.

Asiyejua kufa atazame kaburi – the one who does not know death must look for a grave.

and similarly

Kila jambo linafika mwisho wake – every thing reaches its end. In other words, it won’t always be plain sailing, don’t just go on thinking things will be awesome because you’re up the top of the hierarchy right now.

Most clearly of all:

Aliyejuu mngojee chini – the one who is up high, wait for him/her below. If what comes up must come down, make sure you remember those below you, because you could soon be down there with them! Be humble while you are up high as preparation for what is to come.

Yet, with all these warnings about falling down the hierarchy and preparing for that day, there is this one as well:

Mtafutaji hachoki, akichoka kapata – The one who is still looking is not tired, if he/she has tired he/she has got what he/she wanted. Perhaps like “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” the idea is to never tire of trying to improve your situation. This provides some background for the Tanzanian horror of losing hope (kukata tamaa) and why this is seen as a sign of doubt in the victory of Christ.

 This is a great short film out of Tanzania that deals with these themes. It has English subtitles.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

4 replies

  1. Love cross cultural proverbs. Those ones are great and illumine so much. I’m building a list of my own here from my context.

  2. I’d be interested to know the name of the short film you referred to. Is it on YouTube?

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